Marketing and sales teams should be better integrated

I’ve been incredibly fortunate to have worked with some of the best marketing talent in the tech industry over the length of my career – starting with 16 years at Apple, three years at Zebra, one at Lextech, and almost one year at LiveAction, for instance. I’ve also worked with some of the most-dedicated salespeople in the world as well at these same companies.

Both of these departments have a commonality – they are all comprised of highly engaged, highly intelligent people. In the marketing realm, there were people that did their research, and were creative in the tools they created and in the way they should be deployed. On the sales side, those folks were just plain old hard-working, enthusiastic evangelists for the company’s products.

Another commonality, this time at the different companies was that sometimes, we folks in the sales department didn’t always make best use of the marketing programs and tools.

Why is this, you may ask?

Today’s realities

In the marketplace today, there are many choices that an end-customer has in regards to purchasing something they feel they need. And that’s a key concept – a person must feel a need, or better yet a want – before they purchase something. It’s human nature. In fact, those are the only two reasons people buy anything today – they either want it, or they need it.

It has also become a lot busier around the water-cooler these days, with one person doing the work of 2, 3, or even 4 people these days. Some statistics would say that up to 85% of all working people today are looking for a new job right now. These researchers posit that this is due to some level of dissatisfaction with their current position; mostly due to being overwhelmed with work and feeling underappreciated. The “do more with less” mantra of late is wearing thin.

Having said all of that, people just don’t have the time to entertain conversations with sales people as much any longer.

There was also this interesting invention a few years back called the internet, whereby people can do a veritable ton of research way before they ever talk to any salesperson from any company. In fact, in some cases, the customer may know more about your product than you do as a direct salesperson.

In this case then, the salesperson needs to become a trusted consultant to help the customer see all possible applications they may have (unintentionally) overlooked during their investigation. It is up to the salesperson to take the “need” aspect of the product sales effort, and turn it into a “want” in the eyes of their customers.

Why would I want to do that – I thought I’m supposed to fulfill customer needs?

In a nutshell, we as humans are more-likely to pay more for things we want (Layers 4 and 5 of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs pyramid), more so than those things we simply need (with the exception of medical products, that is).

Look at it this way – if everything were to be based on price, why is there a market for Mercedes, Tesla, or Cadillac? It’s because the car nut in those that can barely afford these products will find a way to purchase them. If price were the only issue in the purchase of a car, then we’d all be driving some small sub-$20,000 econobox that gets 30 miles to the gallon, or more.

But if we’re on the edge, budget-wise of being able to afford something, we’ll find a way to afford that thing that we want.

On the other hand, if you’re looking for a 5-pound bag of sugar, does brand name really matter? Not nearly as much, I’d suggest. Sugar is sugar, right? A commodity that most people seem to feel there is little difference between brands. Down in Layer 1 of Maslow’s graphic.

One more example of a “want” – do sports-minded people really need 70” TVs? Of course not – but they want one. They want to enjoy the big game in large screen format and in vivid living color. The action-movie buff wants to replicate the theater experience at home – those explosions need to fill the room with orange and yellow, and the flying debris needs to fill my field of view. Layer 4 of the pyramid.

OK, so what does all this have to do with better integration between marketing and sales?

That’s the big question, isn’t it? Simply put – the marketing department at larger companies is usually full of very smart people that know how to create a compelling message and set of sales tools about a new product, or a new use case for an existing product. After that work is done, the usual workflow is to “toss it over the transom” to the sales department – and expect them to run with it.

Unfortunately, messaging uptake doesn’t always happen overnight. The reality of life is, sales people are already extremely busy, doing the things that have made them successful in the past. They already have a ton of leads to work through the sales process and pipeline, and they already have several demos and meetings set up. Asking them to study yet another marketing program is asking a lot at its very essence – really – it is.

Worse yet, let’s say that the marketing group came up with something a while back that fell short of expectations. The sales folks will remember that, and probably be a tad shy about the next big program due to that one slip. Is that fair, or even warranted? No, not at all.

But it’s human nature.

So what should happen?

It is my contention that working in the above manner (throwing marketing programs over the transom) is only marginally successful, at best. On the other hand, if the marketing team were to be present at the first couple of sales meetings after the new messaging was created and presented, that would help immensely.

Showing the sales team how to best use those new tools and that knowledge at the right time in the sales cyclewould be of great value – to both teams. In fact, the marketing person should be the actual presenter (Subject Matter Expert or “SME”) of the information to a certain set of customers early in the rollout process.

This approach then would ensure that future marketing programs, tools, and knowledge would be appropriate for customer usage, and that the sales people would know how to best exploit future tools. To do that, I would suggest that the marketing people get some windshield time with the sales team to try out the new messaging or program – to see how it’s received by actual customers. With this experience, the marketing team will be better equipped to create more appropriate messaging and tools later, and the sales team will see just how successful they can be with the information and tools we receive for our future customer engagements.

This will also expose the marketing group to how customers receive their new messages – they’ll see first-hand what works and what doesn’t – and most importantly whysomething may (or may not) work as expected.

But what does happen?

Unfortunately, many times, there is a disconnect between the sales team and the marketing team. Within some organizations, there is even a distrust between the two groups.

The net effect of that disconnect can cost a large company literally millions of dollars in “sunk costs.” Examples of this include the R&D for the new product, the engineering effort to create it, the marketing research performed to support the launch, and so on.

And then the sales team does not take full advantage of the message. In the defense of many sales teams, they may simply not know of new projects, messages, promotions, etc. Like I said earlier, the sales team is already very busy, and may have missed the memo.

So what should we do? (Context is king here.)

At each company in which I’m hired, I try to make contact with the marketing group early in my tenure, usually during the 2-4 week training period when I’m at corporate HQ anyway. This is not always possible in larger organizations, but in smaller startups and in smaller companies, this is much more attainable.

If I can get a couple of hours from some of the marketing people to ask how they are currently approaching marketing efforts, how they position my product, and how they derived that messaging, I’ll be miles ahead more quickly – I will better know the ins-and-outs of my product from some very smart people. I’ll get help in finding how to position the product during discovery, during the demo phase, during the negotiation phase, and during the closing stage. I’ll hear about questions they’ve asked customers to derive their answers and their messaging.

And since I’m a senior channel manager, I’ll be better able to help my channel partner reps better understand where my product fits into their portfolios and line cards. I’ll know which partner needs to know about which message/feature/function, and which I should not expose to the messaging (not all partners are created equal).

I’ll ask to be put on all appropriate email lists, so I know when email blasts go out to my territory. I’ll see what the marketing group is changing in terms of messaging and in terms of possible promotions and new competitive information.

If I can use my past experience to help them build/edit new messages, that’s good too. Both parties win.

Actually, all 4 parties win. My company’s two teams (sales and marketing), my channel/alliance partners, and the customers we call on together.

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